On The Avenue

Do you pick your plays in Poughkeepsie?

Monday, December 5, 2016

“How much do you love the New York Stage and Film Gala?” actor Peter Gallagher asked the crowd at the 32-year-old non-profit’s winter gathering at the Plaza Hotel on Sunday night. “A family reunion? A really good cash party?”

Actually, it was the best of both worlds when friends and the family of the theater and its thespians gathered to honor two of their own, Academy Award-nominated actress Annette Bening and the Tony Award-winning set designer, architect, and environmental design maestro, David Rockwell, at what was announced as the most successful fund-raising event in the group’s history.

Every summer, New York Stage and Film sponsors an annual residency and collaboration with Vassar College, where both emerging and established theater artists—400 at a time—gather at its Powerhouse Theater, which serves as an incubator and catalyst for embryonic productions. Dozens of great plays and musicals began in this crucible, among them Hamilton, The Humans, and American Idiot.

In its role as the Research and Development Department for American theater, NYS&F also sponsors programming, workshops, readings, fellowships, residencies and training programs for film and theater artists that have aided the evolution of performance and enlivened stages and screens around the world.

As at other public events in recent weeks, current politics painted the evening’s backdrop. “Acting is an exercise in empathy,” said Johanna Pfaelzer, the group’s artistic director. “I’m grateful to our actors who allow us to truly see people who are different than we are.” Added Tony Friscia, president of NYS&F’s board, “I love it when I’m feeling especially secure about the First Amendment and I love it when I’m not.”

As guests including Jordan and Daryl Roth, Michele Herbert, ICM’s Jennifer Joel, Kyra Sedgwick, and Hyphenate-King Warren Beatty watched and applauded, Gallagher introduced Bening and Mark Linn-Baker welcomed Rockwell, to receive their awards. Bening, “feeling really good about myself right now,” as she put it, promptly pricked her own balloon by reading a critical slam of her work from the New York Times drama critic Ben Brantley. “I just wanted to get that off my chest,” she quipped. “Anything smart, principled or clever I say has somehow been informed by my husband.” Beatty looked on with pride.

Rockwell was introduced by Bette Midler on video and greeted in person with  performances, including selections from On the Twentieth Century, Kiss Me Kate and Kinky Boots. Billy Porter, from the latter, brought the house down before Jordan Roth gave Rockwell his award, noting that, “For David, life is theatrical and the theatre is life.” Graciously, Rockwell concluded with a nod at the evening’s other honoree. “I would have come here tonight just to be in a room with Ms. Bening,” he said.

Photos by Sylvain Gaboury/PMC.


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